Naturalism developed in France in the 19th Century as an extreme form of realism. It was inspired in part by the scientific determinism of Charles Darwin, an Englishman, and the economic determinism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, both Germans. Four Frenchmen—Hippolyte Taine, Edmond and Jules Goncourt, and Emile Zola—applied the principles of scientific and economic determinism to literature to create literary naturalism. According to its followers, literary naturalism has the following basic tenets:
Heredity and environment are the major forces that shape human beings.
In other words, like lower animals, humans respond mainly to inborn instincts that influence behavior in concert with—and sometimes in opposition to—environmental influences, including economic, social, cultural, and familial influences. Miss Julie, for example, responds partly to her inborn female instinct for male companionship and partly to her environmentally induced hatred of men. Consequently, she both desires and despises Jean, causing her deep internal conflict. Human beings have no free will, or very little of it, because heredity and environment are so powerful in determining the course of human action.
Human beings, like lower animals, have no soul. Religion and morality are irrelevant. (Strindberg, an atheist when he wrote Miss Julie, later converted to Christianity under the influence of the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.) A literary work should present life exactly as it is, without preachment, judgment, or embellishment. In this respect, naturalism is akin to realism. However, naturalism goes further than realism in that it presents a more detailed picture of everyday life.
Whereas the realist writer omits insignificant details when depicting a particular scene, a naturalist writer generally includes them. He wants the scene to be as “natural” as possible. The naturalist writer also attempts to be painstakingly objective and detached. Rather than manipulating characters as if they were puppets, the naturalist writer prefers to observe the characters as if they were animals in the wild and then report on their activity. Finally, naturalism attempts to present dialogue as spoken in everyday life.
Rather than putting “unnatural” wording in the mouth of a character, the naturalist writer attempts to reproduce the speech patterns of people in a particular time and place. ……. Naturalist writers generally achieve only limited success in adhering to Tenet 4. The main problem is that it is next to impossible for a writer to remain objective and detached, like a scientist in a laboratory. After all, a scientist analyzes existing natural objects and phenomena. A naturalist writer, on the other hand, analyzes characters he created; they may be based on real people, but they themselves are not real.
Thus, in bringing these characters to the stage or the printed page, the naturalist writer brings a part of himself—a subjective part. Also, in their use of literary devices—such as Strindberg’s use of symbols in Miss Julie to support his theme–naturalist writers again inject their subjective selves into the play. In real life, would Miss Julie own a dog that mates with a pug, symbolizing and foreshadowing her brief sexual encounter with Jean? Would she force her fiance to jump over a horsewhip that symbolizes her effort to dominate him?